Archive for New Improved Plants

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape – Bad Grass Good Grass

Xeriscape Planting Landscape Design in a Day

Good grass like Pennisetum Alocuroides ‘Little Bunny’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus Pracox ‘Elfin Pink’,  a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Hate Weeding?

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say they dislike weeding over all outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some new cute plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stippa Tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stippa Tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital G may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much over time, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Edited blonde ambition

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

Low Maintenance

Cut it down in February to two inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill Blue Grama Grass, plant it in heavy clay and over water it.  I’m excited about adding this good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

NW Portland Hillside Garden design by Landscape Design in a Day

Himalayan Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum venustum creeps through rockery. Photo is from one of my Willamette Heights Landscape Designs in Portland, Oregon.

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

I’ve been following Judith Jones and her career as a fern expert extraordinary before social media existed.  She’s been my fern guru for 20 years and I’ve tried to catch her lectures when she comes to Portland at Joy Creek Nursery, HPSO plant sales and garden shows.  My favorite Judith sighting was at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show when her show garden as the set for the Flintstones.  She was dressed as Wilma complete with a bone in her hair.  There was a dozen or more 8’ tall tree ferns and a 20’ tall volcano.  It looked like a real tropical fern forest.  It’s still my favorite show garden of all times.  She and her nursery Fancy Fronds have been my source for ferns in my designs.

She gave a special program for ANLD Portland Landscape Designers the other evening. She has continued to evolve and had new plants for me to consider as well as highlighting my old favorites.   It was such a pleasure to see her and learn more about ferns for landscape designers.

Client Charmer – Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x tracyi

photo by Fancy Fronds

Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x Tracyi

Is it possible to have a new fern?  This maidenhair was discovered in the 1900’s instead of 2000 bc which makes it new in my book.  Tracyi is a natural cross between two California native deciduous Maidenhair ferns and oddly enough it is evergreen.  Clients like a plant with long seasonal interest. The leaf or pinnae is cute, it has little dimples in the edge of each leaf.  The plant is a foot tall and like many Maidenhair ferns, the texture of the plant is what people notice most.  The best place to buy it is Judith herself at www.fancyfrondsnursery.com   I will list it in the shade category but many maidenhair fern can take some sun and become low water plants over time.  Typically, they are listed for moist shade.

Peacock Moss Modern Landscape Style

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella Kraussiana is a low ground cover fern that is underused. Some think it isn’t cold hardy for Portland, Oregon. Not true! I have it growing outdoors in a container where it’s handled many winters. It’s thriving in boulder crevices up in Willamette Heights. Plant it where it will have good drainage and light shade.

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’ 

My descriptive words for Spikemoss are baby chick fluffy, with evergreen piles of adorable pettable  texture.  Judith feels it is underused and recommends it for Portland designers.  Don’t get confused and purchase Peacock moss, Selaginella uncinata because they are devoured by slugs.  I’ve been using Spikemoss for years at garden shows to dress up my pottery which is how I know that the millennial generation loves it.  They come running into my booth to pet the moss and ask if it is real. Spikemosses are not true mosses and are classed with ferns because they have a vascular system and moss doesn’t.   I’ve used Spikemoss in between boulders and I love the effect. My advice for boulder plantings is plant twice as much as you need, use a mix of compost, clay and sphagnum moss in the crevices. Don’t plant them at the base of boulders; they won’t get enough light.  Where it succeeds, it is eye catching with chartreuse fluffy fans against gray boulders. It has succeeded planted under my  (containerized) Dwarf  Vine Maple for 6 years so cold isn’t an issue.

Narrow Planting Beds

Photo credit Fancy Fronds, Judith Jones Narrow fern fits urban gardens (Scaled Male Fern Dryopteris 'Stableri Crisped')

Scaled Male Fern – Dryopteris ‘Stableri Crisped’ – Grow this fern in front of a long fence to make the fence subordinate to the landscape instead of the most prominent feature.

Ferns for Narrow Planting Beds – Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern-Dryopteris affinis ‘Stableri’ which has no crests and ‘Stableri Crisped’ which has curled and crimped pinnule margins.  Think amazing texture!   Judith suggests these for narrow planting strips in general and in front of tall fences in particular.  My experience is that builders and concrete contractors often create front walks that only leave a skinny strip for plants.

Imagine a  6′ tall fence with, you guessed it,  about 15” to plant in.   It’s a problem for homeowners and even designers struggle finding plants that fit this situation.  Jack hammering out the front walk and starting over with a new one is the best thing if there is space for other options and budget.  The rest of the time we find the right plant that will fit that location for years without our clients needing to do much.  Can you imagine a fern trimmed into a lollypop?  We are trying to avoid that sort of business!!  Sigh…….. These handsome ferns could live for decades in that narrow area as long as the soil drains reasonably well.  These ferns are also my favorite for visually making the fence subordinate instead of prominent. The narrow vase shape also makes them perfect contrast partners to plants with large leaves like Hosta or Fatsia in larger planting beds.

Foundation Plants

Sword Leaf Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum  and Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’  

These two ferns could become your new regular use plants in designs.  They are evergreen, not as tall as many ferns and look good in foundation plantings.  Place them in partly shaded and shady areas.

Olive colored foliage makes this fern unique for Portland Landscapes

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’

Sword Leafed Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum is neat and small at 15″ tall.

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’ –  Olive, straw gold and russet fern with lustrous fronds is beautifully different than other ferns. Judith says it like this: “There is a reptilian sheen to the olive-green linear-lanceolate fronds which blends subtly into the varied straw to chestnut colored scales cloaking the supporting framework.”   It’s typically a 2-footer and evergreen or ever olive.  Some filtered morning light is okay but this fern is not for sunny areas.

Shade Garden Combination of fern and hosta

ANLD Member Rick Hansen design Arachniodes Standishii – Upside Down Fern in 2015 Designers Garden Tour. Note the color echo achieved by matching the mid green of the fern with the mid green leaf edge of the hosta.  See the contrast from the ruffled texture of the fern with the smooth hosta leaf.

 

 

Big Drama Fern

Upside Down Fern – Arachniodes Standishii  –  It’s not an upside down plant but the way the little pinnae are organized is opposite of all the other Arachniodes ferns in the world.  What I  care about is that it is cold hardy here (native to Korea and Japan), has an over the top lacy pattern and is easy to grow.  It’s semi evergreen.  It can take a little direct morning sun, typically place it in filtered shade with some deeper afternoon shade.  Plant it in front of other plants for a peek through the lace curtain effect.  It can eventually get large (4′ tall and wide) and I am trying mine on the north side where it will get sun until noon in mid June.  I’m pushing my luck a bit so we will see if it scorches and if so how long it takes to recover.

After the lecture, I bought plants. Even in my near senior status I felt that good old plant lust rise to the surface.  I usually don’t indulge in buying plants at lectures.  Managing all aspects of my landscape design business doesn’t leave me a lot of time for my former hobby of gardener and plant enthusiast.  I must be careful that I don’t kill plant material purchased in a state of amnesia about the reality of my life.  I bought these 5 ferns:  Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x traceyi, Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern  Dryopteris x complexa ‘Stableri Crisped’, Arachniodes Standishii, Upside Down Fern, Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’, and have lost the tag on the last one.  It’s clearly a Holly fern of some kind.

Buy ferns from Judith

My clients and I buy ferns directly from Judith off her web site or via an email. I like buying from her and get loads of advice and information when I need it. They arrive in great shape and are mostly sized between a 4” plant and a quart.  If you want bigger sizes, contact her before the spring or fall HPSO plant sale and she can bring them down for you.  Your clients can buy directly from her too.

Colorful Cape Fuchsia Makes Beautiful Summer Memories

Cracker Jack on Barnes Road roof garden

My cat loved to watch hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds love Cape Fuchsia for the nectar.  I love to use it in designs because it adds so much color, is easy to grow and the new varieties work well with modern and cottage garden styles.  This plant is a crowd pleaser and I use it frequently.

I planted my first Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius x rectus ‘Salmon Leap’  on my roof garden in Portland’s West Hills.  It was at 900 feet and we had snow every year even though I was 5 minutes away from downtown Portland.   The house was designed so that the third floor master suite had easy access to and a view of my roof garden.  It had a hot tub that was 20 feet from my bed, a big overstuffed outdoor sofa with an overhead cover and plenty of Cape Fuchsia!  In spite of the colder winters, the Cape Fuchsia (native to South Africa) never flagged or failed in the 12 years I lived there.  I loved my roof garden and the only family members who loved it more were the 4 leggeds, Barley,  Cee Cee and Cracker Jack.  One particular day everyone was curled up on the big overstuffed sofa.  I was reading and pets were napping.  All was peaceful.  I heard a strange whirring noise.  At first I didn’t see anything unusual.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my pets’ heads were going up and then down and then up and then down, I looked up to see a small blur. What did I see?  What was happening?

Portland roof garden

My roof garden 2006.

We were witnessing a hummingbird mating ritual.  The male made a 90 foot oval flight pattern to within an inch of his intended.  She was steadfastly ignoring him and drinking nectar from my Cape Fuchsia.  There wasn’t even a flicker in his direction.  The buzzing sound was made by his high speed downward trajectory.  It abated on the way up.   It was mesmerizing.  It was one of those wonderful garden memories that I treasure.    Just us mammals all watching the entertainment together.

If you would like to have some close encounters with hummingbirds or you just love colorful plants, the Cape Fuchsia is the perfect addition to your garden.  The best hummingbird attractors are the older varieties because they flower in the most intense coral red shades.  My favorites are ‘Devils Tears’, ‘Salmon Leap’ and ‘African Queen’, but they are too big and a bit too rowdy for a small yard.

The new varieties are more compact and a little tidier in habit.  The flower colors are available in more traditional shades.  When these new colors first came on the market I was annoyed.  I felt like they had dumbed down a great plant by removing the coral shades…….but then I saw it wasn’t an either or.  I now had more choices and that is always a good thing for a garden designer.

If you love modern landscape design style but don’t want to give up color, these new Cape Fuchsia are perfect for you.

Here are 2 new varieties from Skagit Gardens:

Croftway purple prince cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Croftway Purple Prince is an intense magenta.

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ has that intense magenta color.  I think it looks really good with Black Mondo Grass………Morticia Adams where are you now?  It glows in the evening light.  ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ is cold hardy for the Pacific Northwest and listed as zone 6 Yah!

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Yellow Sovereign’ is 18 to 24 inches tall by 24 inches wide.  Many soft yellow flowers burn in full sun but ‘Yellow Sovereign’ can take the heat.

Full sun easy care yellow sovereighn cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Yellow Sovereign does not scorch in full sun.

Barbara Ashmun, Portland garden writer has a great article about Cape Fuchsia’s.

I don’t tend to use the older varieties of Cape Fuchsia in front yards as the winter appearance is a little ragged.  If you love this plant like I do, simply cut it to the ground in mid December for a tidy look.

Hummingbirds Favorite Summer Flower

Portland Garden Designer Loves Colorful Cape Fuchsia

Phygelius with Phormium from ANLD tour

Phygelius planted along side Phormium. Picture from ANLD garden tour.

Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius, is a colorful, low maintenance long blooming summer flower for the Pacific Northwest.  I use it in landscape designs for clients who love color and watching hummingbirds.  It’s a personal favorite of mine.

If you are a person who wants a very tidy landscape that looks perfect all year long, this is not your plant.  I consider this plant to be low maintenance.  The winter appearance is not tidy but clients who love the color and the show simply cut it to the ground in December.  It can spread some.  In the spring if the plant is taking more territory than you want, simply pull on the stem that is straying.  Pull it out of the ground and cut the root off near the mother plant.  It is very easy, I promise.  Give it lots of sun, decent soil and water the first year.  It will need less water the following year.  Some clients water it about once every two weeks.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with needing a calm and low maintenance landscape.  We are all unique and a plant that makes one person feel delight can make another person feel claustrophobic.  I notice clients who grew up in climates where plants tend to be sparser can feel uncomfortable with the full flush of plantings possible here.

Morris after back yard

Mass planting of strong plant colors and a path help to break up the lines of the pool.

The first time I used this plant was for Art and Linda in SW Portland.  They had a 1960’s swimming pool in the backyard that dominated.  It visually ate the backyard.  They wanted a cottage garden style with lots of color.  My design solution successfully put the pool in a subordinate position to the landscape.  I created some great paths and shapes for the planting beds that broke up the lines of the pool visually.  We needed masses of strong plant color in the backyard to offset the powerful aqua rectangle.   I’m not a big color wheel garden designer but colors like coral and salmon are opposite the wheel from aqua. The Cape Fuchsia flowers are perfect for this situation because they flower in these colors and they flower all summer, hitting their stride during hot weather.  My clients enjoy hanging out by the pool and are entertained by the antics of hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the hot coral red tones of the Cape Fuchsia.

Morris before back yard

Art and Linda’s back yard needed some color to offset the aqua of the pool water.

My favorite planting combination for this design was Panicum Virgatum, American Switch Grass ‘Heavy Metal’ with the Phygelius x recta ‘Devils Tears’.   They are a perfect contrast combination! The Switch Grass blade is a fine silvery blue texture.  It contrasts with the Cape Fuchsia’s dark green leaf and hot colored tubular flowers.  The inside of the tube is a mellow lemon yellow but mostly the hummingbirds are the ones who see this.

Phygelius picture from Joy Creek

Phygelius ‘Salmon Leap’.   Janet Loughrey photo from Joy Creek Nursery

If you research this plant on the internet, you may think Cape Fuchsia are not cold hardy here since they are native to South Africa.  Many plant authorities also say these plants need a lot of water.  I don’t agree.  I have grown them at 900 feet on a roof garden and only watered them every two weeks.  They were successful for 12 years and were still there when I moved.

I’m always advocating for low water use so planting Cape Fuchsia with American Switch Grass results in a very low water landscape pairing.

While I love the old fashioned varieties, the new varieties  are shorter and flower in softer more traditional colors.  This has made the Cape Fuchsia a more versatile plant that works well for small properties and containers.  The only drawback to the new varieties  is the softer colors.   When you select a softer color you lose some of the hummingbird magnet effect but you still get a great plant.  Check out other great hummingbird plants.

 

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landcapes

Winter Color Sizzle Plant

‘Sizzling Pink’ Chinese Loropetalum is the focal point plant for a Willamette Heights  Landscape Design in a Day client’s entry.

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landscapes

Exciting Winter Color Shrub

As a Portland landscape designer I have many clients who want exciting winter color in their landscapes.  When new clients fill in their landscape preference survey they often circle the option for burgundy foliage and add little hearts!   Sadly most burgundy leafed plants are not cold hardy enough here in the Pacific Northwest to look picture perfect in winter.

My Favorite

My favorite choice for dark red or eggplant purple foliage is called Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum or Red Chinese Loropetalum.  Plain Chinese Loropetalum has green foliage and white flowers.   I love the Red Chinese Loropetalum.  It  has amazing thick hot pink fringe flowers in early spring.  The spring foliage emerges burgundy red or dark to medium red pink depending on the variety.   Other varieties are dark red to an eggplant purple through the year.

Unique plant but tricky to site properly

My NW Portland landscape design clients, Dave and Rhonda loved this plant.  It provided a very attractive color echo of their eggplant front door and visually softened the adjacent concrete area. It looked good until January and then for several years the leaves burned and they didn’t grow back in until July!. The love was there but it took too long to recover for an entry focal point plant.   Their plant got sun from 6am in the winter until 1 pm.  They had good drainage and were careful and consistent with watering.  Perversely, I have seen other plants simply glowing in February in the same exact siting.  Can you tell I had a little trouble giving up on that one?  I avoid 6 am winter sun for best outcome.

lorepetalum-from-monrovia

Spring flowers (Photo courtesy of Monrovia)

So why bother with this plant?

It is the wonderful purple red foliage color, the soft arching shape of the branches and the hot colored fringe flowers in spring. Its well worth it if you love purple foliage.    If the plant gets cold east wind in winter, the leaves will burn (desiccate) and it may look terrible until May or June. Year round good looks is all about proper siting and a bit of luck.

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum 'Jazz Hands'

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum ‘Jazz Hands’

Twp good choices

These two old  varieties are still easy to find and are what I’m most familiar with:   ‘Sizzling Pink’, which is also called ‘Burgundy’ (cold tolerant to 15 degrees), and   ‘Pippa’s Red’ (hardy to 10 degrees).  ‘Pippa’s Red’ is not as dark a red leaf as ‘Sizzling Pink’. I’m interested in ‘Hines Purpleleaf’, ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ and ‘Jazz Hands’ but wasn’t able to find them to purchase.

There are many new varieties but most were hybridized (designed) for the southern states and are not tested here in the Pacific NW.

I love to drive around Portland and see them thriving.   They saw it, bought it, and just happened to plant it in the right spot!! Whoever they are, they don’t even know its supposed to be a little tricky.  I would be willing to try it in colder areas like Gresham but only where it is 100% protected from east wind.  Even then, I’d consider it an experiment. A whole landscape of plant experiments is called gambling and is not typically the result  we want in a landscape design.  Most of my clients want a sure bet.